Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Fear and Loathing in West Yellowstone

Monday was Day One of the Yellowstone National Park portion of our trip.  We've planned to spend a total of 3 full days in the area.  Monday started slow, and I made a quick trip over to Blue Ribbon Flies and met up with Tom Brodhead, creator and proprietor of 406 Fly Lines.  Tom drove 2.5 hours from Livingstone just to chat and let me try a demo of his 6 weight double-taper for my Epic 686.  Impressed, I purchased one from Cam in the Blue Ribbon Flies store.  More on this in the future after I have a chance to spool up the new line and use it on the water!

When I asked for a little guidance on what patterns to try on some specific Yellowstone Park streams, a gentleman named John pointed out a few things that ran counter to some of the tribal wisdom for a warm August.  When we were done picking flies, I introduced myself, and found that I was being assisted by none other than John Juracek.  Overall, an impressive start to the day.

I met the family at DQ for lunch and we proceeded into the park.  The general idea was to get a couple of the crowed beaten-path sights checked off the list and try some less-crowded placed for days 2 and 3.  We spent a good amount of time driving and stopping along the Firehole River, then made our way into Old Faithful village.  That's when things started to unravel.

We explored acres of parking area in hope of finding a space long/wide enough for a crew cab, long box Ford F350.  Just before parking, the "service engine soon" indicator appeared on the dash.  This truck is  just a couple days short of one year old.  My mind immediately flashed through the next 24 hours, and The Little Voices® began screaming.  Clearly, Mrs. Fading Angler was not pleased.  I entered Stage 1 of Fear-and Loathing.  A dark cloud hung over our viewing of the eruption of Old Faithful and the subsequent drive out of the park back to the Mobile Hotel®.  During that drive, the engine also developed a low-rpm knock/rattle.  The Diagnostic Department in my head crunched the limited data and computed a list of likely cause for the idiot-light and knock/rattle.  The most-probable cause: bad fuel injector.  Less probable: bad piston ring, main bearing, or piston rod bearing.  Please welcome, if you will, Stage 2 of Fear-and-Loathing.

During a brief window of cellphone coverage in the park, Mrs. FA called the Ford dealer in Bozeman.  The service department there was EXCEPTIONALLY unhelpful, despite the fact that she told them we were in Yellowstone, on vacation from Minnesota, pulling a fifth-wheel RV.  She was told they wouldn't even have time to read the diagnostic code from the engine computer for at least 10 days.  The Offspring and I could feel her blood boiling, so we elected to remain as quiet as possible while she drove.  I grabbed a beer and sat outside at the picnic table when we arrived back at the Mobile Hotel®, and contacted a retired heavy-equipment diesel mechanic: my father.  His most-probable-cause analysis was the same: if our anti-freeze reservoir was full, it's probably a bad injector.  Fear-and-Loathing Stage 3 whacked me on the back of the head.

If you've not seen the engine compartment of a Ford "Super Duty" truck lately, it looks like 10 pounds of material stuffed into a 1 pound box.  There is no room to perform any maintenance other than oil check, and coolant fill, and maybe air filter change.  Just about anything else requires the CAB TO BE LIFTED OFF THE BODY.  This is time-consuming.  Who knows when a shop will be able to fit us in.  And RV spaces are hard to get around here at this point.  We made our reservations back in April, and we're supposed to check out Thursday morning.

Mrs. FA is driving the truck down to Rexburg, Idaho right now.  The Offspring and I are "stranded" in West Yellowstone at the Mobile Hotel.  (Laundry day!)  Maybe everything will be super simple and we can get back on schedule.  And, after all, we're still under warranty.  With a little good fortune, we might be able to meet my family (and the famous Eddie Rivard!) up in the Wyoming's Big Horn mountains by Thursday night.  If not, I might run out of anxiety meds.

Into every angling vacation, a little rain must fall...

Update - 9:53 AM MDT : Ford dealer in Rexburg is being extraordinarily kind to Mrs. FA.  They read the computer diagnostic code: Failed injector.  They need to perform 5 or 6 more diagnostic checks before we can make plans, and this is expected to take until at least 3 PM.

In the meantime, I just remembered that Mrs. FA and the Offspring bought me a t-shirt yesterday.

There are worse places in the world to be stranded than West Yellowstone.  Time to make some lemonade.

Update - 11:47 PM MDT : Either somebody was praying for us (not me, seems too vain, praying for my own benefit) or else I just cashed in a serious amount of karma.  Mrs. FA was back in West Yellowstone by 2 PM MDT.  The big diagnostic computer at the Ford dealer had a conversation with the little engine computer in our truck.  The truck computer was complaining that our fuel was bad (cetane levels too low) and was trying to compensate by pushing more fuel.  Eventually, out fell too far out of spec and threw the trouble code.  They reprogrammed the truck computer to a lower tolerance than the original factory spec (part of a factory TSB update, so still under warranty), tested it on the road, and meekly declared it fixed, much to our surprise and that of both diesel mechanics on duty.  They spent a good amount of time chatting with her, perhaps surprised at her level of knowledge.  When the block cracked on the Cummins engine in our '99 Dodge Ram, she helped her father strip the old engine and build the new one on the new block that Cummins provided for us.  But I digress.  Fresh fuel and a cetane booster we added to the half-empty tank, and back on tour we went.  Try not to buy diesel from the Town Pump/ExxonMobil in Ennis, Montana if you can avoid it.

Crowning jewel of the day, and perhaps the trip:  we watched a pack of three wolves trek a mile or two along a hillside in the Yellowstone River valley until it was almost too dark to see.  I was almost as excited to walk through the Norris geyser basin.

Yes, I forgot my lessons from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.


  1. Since I'm no mechanic of any kind, I find it difficult to understand what the problem is when you break down in Montana and you are a fisherman. I hope the rest of the trip goes well.

    1. May I refer you to my list of Daily Affirmations?


      * I have the power to channel my imagination into ever-soaring levels of suspicion and paranoia


      * Only a lack of imagination saves me from immobilizing myself with imaginary fears

      When it comes to technical matters, part of my job is to anticipate and design against everything that can go wrong. Professional hazard that bleeds tragically into my other mental instabilities. However:

      * In some cultures what I do would be considered normal.

  2. Great to hear that the folks in Rexburg took the time to check into the problem. Hope that everything gets back on track for you. By the way, the guys at Blue Ribbon Flies are first class. When I lived in Eastern Idaho, I used to treasure my trips to West Yellowstone and the comforts of Blue Ribbon Flies.

    1. We've had the pleasure of dealing with some exceptionally good people on this trip. I think I need to hear a few more of your stories someday, sir.